In a blow to every corrupt politician or bureaucrat shielded by the executive's unwillingness to let them stand trial, the Supreme Court on Tuesday set a three-month deadline for governments to decide whether or not to grant sanction for prosecution under Section 19 of the Prevention of Corruption Act.

A Bench of Justices G.S. Singhvi and A.K. Ganguly was allowing a petition filed by Janata Party president Subramanian Swamy, who questioned the delay on the part of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the sanctioning authority, in granting sanction for prosecution of the former Telecom Minister, A. Raja, in the 2G spectrum allocation case.

The Bench gave two concurring judgments and held that Dr. Swamy had the locus standi to file a private complaint and seek sanction for prosecution. Justice Singhvi said: “Keeping in view the fact that the Special Judge, CBI, has already taken cognisance of the offences committed by Mr. A. Raja under the PC Act, we do not consider it necessary to give any other direction in the matter.”

Justice Singhvi held that had the Prime Minister been apprised of the true, factual and legal position on Dr. Swamy's representation, he would surely have taken an appropriate decision and would not have allowed the matter to linger for more than one year.

Justice Ganguly said: “Delay in granting sanction has spoilt many a valid prosecution and is adversely viewed in [the] public mind that in the name of considering a prayer for sanction, protection is given to a corrupt public official as a quid pro quo for services rendered by the official in the past or maybe [to be rendered] in the future and the sanctioning authority and the corrupt officials were or are partners in the same misdeeds.”

The Bench rejected Attorney-General G.E. Vahanvati's argument that the question of grant of sanction for prosecution of a public servant charged with any of the offences enumerated under Section 19(1) would arise only when the court decided to take cognisance and any request made prior to that was premature.

Justice Singhvi, however, said: “At the same time, we deem it proper to observe that in future every competent authority shall take appropriate action on the representation made by a citizen for sanction of prosecution of a public servant strictly in accordance with the direction [of the Supreme Court] in [the case of] Vineet Narain vs Union of India and the guidelines framed by the Central Vigilance Commission. While considering the issue regarding grant or refusal of sanction, the only thing which the competent authority is required to see is whether the material placed by the complainant or the investigating agency prima facie discloses commission of an offence. The competent authority cannot undertake a detailed inquiry to decide whether or not the allegations made against the public servant are true.”

Justice Ganguly said: “Parliament should consider the constitutional imperative of Article 14 enshrining the rule of law wherein ‘due process of law' has been read into it by introducing a time limit in Section 19 of the P.C. Act 1988 for its working in a reasonable manner.” Making it clear that the power under Section 19 must be reasonably exercised, he said “Parliament and the appropriate authority must consider restructuring Section 19 of the P.C. Act in such a manner as to make it consonant with reason, justice and fair play.”

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